BellevueBothellDenise PerkinsEastsideExcise TaxIn the NewsKenmoreMarket StatsNorth KirklandPuget SoundREETSnohomishSnoqualmieWoodinville January 25, 2020

Puget Sound Real Estate: Excise Tax Changes


Thanks to our lending partner Cheryl Gennaios for providing us the great in depth narrative about the NEW 2020 Real Estate Excise tax changes. It still took me a minute to wrap my brain around it….but I think I get it now.

2020 is here, and so are changes to our local tax code.  Here’s the highlights:

  • We’re moving from a state-wide flat real estate excise tax (REET) of 1.28% to a graduated system.
    • STOP TRAFFIC!  If the current excise tax is 1.28%, why did my clients just pay 1.78% when they sold their home?  That’s because all cities are allowed to levy an additional .25% tax on property sales (REET 1).  And cities and counties that are planning under the Growth Management Act are allowed to levy a second quarter percent tax if they want (REET 2).  Therefore, King County’s Real Estate Excise Tax in 2019 was 1.28% + .25% + .25% = 1.78%, and not just the 1.28%.
    • For the record, counties may also submit a ballot for ANOTHER 1% REET to be used for the acquisition and maintenance of conservation areas.  The buyer pays this one though, and the only county that pays this tax is San Juan County (Soooo Oprah just paid $827,500 for conservation of the San Juan Islands natural beauty?  YES!  Damn, I love her).


  • The REET that’s changing is the state level portion.  The new rates will be:
    • 1.1% on the first $500,000 of the selling price
    • 1.28% on the portion of the selling price between $500k and $1.5m
    • 2.75% on the portion of the selling price between $1.5m and $3m
    • 3% on the portion of the selling price over $3m
      • Great!  Now that I know the state-level REETs, what’s MY excise tax owed if I decide to sell?  Check out your local REET rate HERE
      • $600,000 sale price example:  1.1% state REET on the first $500,000 + 1.28% state REET on the remaining $100,000 = blended state REET rate of 1.13% = savings of .15% (or $900) on a $600,000 sale price compared to previous REET rate.
      • $3,250,000 sale price example:   1.1% state REET on the first $500,000 + 1.28% state REET on the portion between $500,000 and $1.5m + 2.75% state REET on the portion between $1.5m and $3m + 3% on the last $250,000 = blended state REET rate of 2.063% = additional tax of .783% (or $25,447.50) on a $3.25m sale price compared to previous REET rate.


  • So that’s a lot of additional tax revenue on more expensive homes…  What does this money go towards anyway?
    • State Level:  1.3% of the state tax collected by counties is retained to cover administration costs. Of the net proceeds to the state, 2% goes into the public works assistance account, 4.1% to the education legacy account, with remaining amounts going the general fund.
    • City Level:  In Seattle (for example), the additional REET 1 and REET 2 funds discussed above go towards:  Parks/Trails, Streets/Highways, Sidewalks, Street Lighting, Traffic Signals, Bridges, Water Systems, Sewer Systems, Judicial Facilities, Administrative Facilities, Law Enforcement Facilities, Fire Protection Facilities, Recreational Facilities, Libraries


  • I heard there’s a Controlling Interest thing too?  What’s that?  Under current law, REET is imposed on the transfer or acquisition of a controlling interest (50% or more) in an entity that owned real property in Washington within any 12-month period. The new REET legislation expands the period for measuring whether a controlling interest has been transferred or acquired to 36 months.  I don’t understand…  Fear Not!  Perkins Coie can explain:
    • For example, in January 2020, Member A sells her 25% interest in an LLC that owns $10 million of real property in Seattle to Member C for $2.5 million. No REET applies because Member A has not sold 50%+ and Member C has not purchased 50%+ of said LLC.  Two years later, Member B sells his 25% interest in the LLC to Member C for $2.5 million. UH OH!  Now REET applies because Member C acquired a combined 50% of LLC within a 36-month period (25% from Member A in 2020, and another 25% from Member B in 2022).  Members A and B would be liable for $319,050 in REET— 6.39% of the consideration received for their membership interests.




It now costs slightly less to sell a cheaper home, and quite a bit more to sell an expensive home.  But because the REET is marginally dependent on the sale price, and moving up the graduated scale doesn’t change the effective tax rate for the entire sale, sellers will still try to maximize their sale price; which means I don’t see any downward pressure on prices.  If anything, higher end list prices could increase ~$20,000 – $30,000 to accommodate the higher excise tax they pay.  Sorta like how soda simply got more expensive at McDonalds when we enacted the soda tax.